HOUSING APARTHEID What’s in a name? Ask a Muslim buying or renting property in the city that never sleeps. Mumbai, which prides itself on its cosmopolitan character, is divided on religion, food habits and language.

When radio jockey Yunus Khan wanted a house in Gorai in suburban Mumbai, he was told it was a “Sena type” area — a reference to the saffron political party Shiv Sena.

“Agents told us it was not possible to get a flat in Gorai,” Mr. Khan told The Hindu. “They said Muslims are not preferred. I am married to a Hindu woman. So they suggested purchasing a flat in my wife’s name. But living anonymously is not possible. Letters and bank statements will be in my name.”

Mr. Khan’s brother faced the same problem, while looking for rental accommodation in suburban Kandivali’s Charkop area.

What’s in a name? Ask a Muslim buying or renting property in the city that never sleeps. Mumbai, which prides itself on its cosmopolitan character, is divided on religion, food habits and language.

A “few locations of south Mumbai like Walkeshwar, Malabar Hill, Peddar Road, Breach Candy; western suburbs like Vile Parle, Bandra, Borivali, Kandivli and eastern suburbs like Ghatkopar, Sion and Mulund are out of bounds for Muslims,”  says Mehul Ved from Ace Realtors, member of South Metrocity Association of Realtors.

“Walkeshwar is totally out for Muslims, except perhaps a few buildings,” said Sanjay Mundra, a south Mumbai realtor in premium housing. “People are refusing to rent or sell houses to Muslims all over the city,” remarked another agent. “I have had dealings in Juhu, Bandra, Peddar Road and Colaba. Around 95 per cent of owners flatly refuse Muslims. They give excuses: a flat is not empty or relatives are coming.”

In Walkeshwar particularly, the unwritten code of barring not just Muslims, but non-vegetarians is rigid. The vegetarian-non-vegetarian divide is “a big issue,” say property agents. “You can’t rent a shop or start a pizza outlet for non-vegetarian fare. On a couple of occasions, the neighbouring shops put up a board urging customers to boycott the shop. It’s difficult to survive,” Mr. Mundra said. Speaking of Muslims as “that community,” he said, “They dress in a certain way. If there are three or four burqua-clad women in a lift, it gets uncomfortable. I am not against any community, but certain communities are rough. They are not concerned about etiquette or hygiene. The [discomfort] is psychological. They can have three or four wives and a lot of children. It can get very crowded and noisy.” Mixed marriages too raise the hackles. Housing societies object to Muslims staying in the homes of their non-Muslim spouses. There is a perception that the Muslim upper crust is “less radical.”

However, unable to draw a line, these societies refuse all Muslims. In 2009, Hindi film actor Emraan Hashmi protested the alleged refusal of a housing colony in Mumbai’s plush Pali Hill locality to give him a flat.

He complained to the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission. “Many societies,” said Mr. Ved, “have a by-law that [mandates] a seller or lessor to check with the society before planning to sell or lease to a potential Muslim buyer.

Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, Professor of Islamic Studies at Mumbai’s premier St. Xavier's College, wanted to buy a house in 2005-06 in Pali Hill, Bandra. “Not one, but many agents told me Pali Hill is restricted. I was shocked. My children are very secular. I found that many localities are out of bounds for Muslims,” she said. Terror attacks have compounded biases, leading to their being further demonised. The 1992-93 communal riots, which saw large-scale movement of Muslims to ghettos, were a watershed. The entire area of Mumbra in Thane district was formed after these riots. Mumbra, Govandi, Bandra (East), Nagpada, Bhendi Bazaar, Zhaveri Bazaar and Mahim, to some degree, are well-known as Muslim pockets. Although such discrimination is rampant, no Muslim wants to come forward to file an official complaint, said Naseem Siddiqui, the Commission’s former chairman. He even endorsed segregation to avoid disputes. “I have myself told Muslims to find places in Muslim localities.”

Gujarati and Marwari home owners are known to exclude Muslims on the basis of food habits.

The Hindu called an agent in the Gujarati-dominated area of Santa Cruz. When told that a Muslim tenant was looking for a place, he said, “Then I will have to find out. I will check if the society owner is comfortable. Otherwise, [the tenant] would have to go to a Muslim area.”